Tuesday 1 March 2016

Self Harm Awareness Day - The Power of Talking

Grace doesn't want others to hold the burden of "the taboo of self-harm" and feel the need to keep it a secret like she once did.


400 in every 100,000 people have been found to harm themselves (Mental Health Foundation). Today marks Self Harm Awareness Day and I believe this to be one of the biggest taboos of mental health. Why don’t we talk about it when it affects so many people?
It can be very hard to understand why someone causes physical harm to themselves. I even find it difficult to comprehend as someone who has experienced self-harm. It’s hard to explain that I was mentally hurting so much that hurting myself physically seemed like the only way to ‘cope’. Yes, I feel embarrassed and ashamed about it, it is not something I am proud of and of course I wish that I didn’t develop this ‘coping strategy’.
However, despite the extent of being ashamed of myself I am more scared of what other people may think, will people still think of me in the same way when they find this out? Will I lose friends? Will people call me an attention seeker? People judging me is 110% the thing I am scared of the most, and my stomach is in knots just writing this, let alone posting it. However, I do know that I don’t do this for attention; it is a very private thing that I have barely told anyone; even some of the people I love the most and am the closest to were unaware. As someone who advocates talking and raising awareness of mental health it’s still something that I wouldn’t have even dreamed about discussing. However, I promised myself this year that I would make an effort to raise awareness of mental health. Therefore, I need to be open with everyone.
There are a lot of stereotypes around self harm, and some people may have a stereotype in their head of the kind of person that self injures…but this is exactly what it is, a stereotype. Do I fit the category of looking like someone who would self injure? No, because self injury can affect anyone no matter of their background or circumstances. Self injury affects more people than anyone realises, and there's isn't a one size fits all with this or any mental health condition.
I find it extremely hard to talk about and almost all the people I know were not aware of my experience with this, but I believe I need to help break down the taboo that surrounds self harm; how can I expect my friends and family to be able to understand and support me when I can’t even talk about it myself?
People may question why would someone who has amazing friends and family, is doing well at university, and has a good social life, feel so negatively towards herself that she has to damage her body? You may think, how will this even help? Isn’t that just a stupid thing to do? It’s understandable that these questions arise, but they aren’t the best ones to ask.
I don’t even understand myself why I felt the need to self harm and why even several years after I started I still struggle with it, but what I do know is that having people around me who love and support me is something that will always help. 
However, sadly it took me years to finally seek help for something I had been doing for many years, due to the fear of being judged and what people might say. Honestly, it’s been hard and the people who I have told have found it very upsetting and difficult to come to terms with. From my personal experience one bit of advice I could give anyone who is supporting someone who experiences self harm is - please remember to look after yourself as well, admitting when it gets too much is something that your friend will be able to appreciate but please never turn your back on them, they need your support more than you know.
Despite a few bad experiences, happily with the right support; opening up to a friend, having someone’s support who had been there themselves, having the best mum in the world, having regular GP appointments, being on the right medication and receiving counselling, I can honestly say it was worth opening up and seeking help. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and if you are someone who is struggling or know someone who is struggling please support them and urge them to seek help.

I don’t want others to hold the burden of “the taboo of self-harm” and feel the need to keep it a secret like I once did. 

Self-harm isn't widely discussed in society let alone in the student population. Raising awareness about self injury is incredibly important- awareness leads to understanding and empathy, banishing judgement and fear, and reducing the number of people who feel alone and suffer in silence. Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self injure and reaching out to people who do.

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by any of the issues discussed above, you can find support here.

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